Finding out: a shock to the system
University can be challenging enough at the best of times but, for myself in particular, I had to juggle the usual workload associated with studying with becoming a young mother.
I had been in a steady relationship for just over three years when (to our surprise) we found out that we were expecting. Not planned, but a nice surprise nonetheless because we had discussed having children in the future anyway.
I found out the week that I enrolled at University (I was nineteen at the time).
We spent much time discussing what would happen in terms of finances, housing and whether or not it would be possible for me to continue studying. We decided that we would be able to manage. I arranged to go and discuss my pregnancy with student services at my chosen institution and was not happy with how they tried to “deal with me”. I already knew that I wanted to continue my first year because I would be due to have my baby in May which would fit in well with my studies. I would then see what would happen once I had given birth, but realistically, I wanted to continue and finish my degree within the usual three year period rather than delaying its completion any longer than I needed to. So, I was quite upset with the rather presumptuous attitude held by the member of staff at student services; she didn’t want to listen to me when I said that I was perfectly fine with studying for the first year of my degree while pregnant. I was hearing phrases such as: “temporary withdrawal” and “focus on baby” and was not happy at all.
I left the meeting feeling alienated from the beginning. I remember spending longer than I should have getting quite emotional about my whole predicament and I resolved to change institutions- which was ultimately one of the best choices I made in the whole process. I eventually started my degree at Sheffield Hallam University where I was supported all the way (so I suppose I want to say thank you for that).
Keeping my bump a secret
Subsequent to my disastrous meeting with the previous institution, I wanted to err on the side of caution when telling new acquaintances about my pregnancy; I feared that I would be judged and that people may think I was a reckless and irresponsible young mother-to-be (just a note: being a young mother should not be associated with being reckless, for I know that I was level-headed for my age).
Anyway, I loved the start of my course and seemed to be able to cope with morning sickness and my insatiable cravings for milk (thankfully, the canteen sold little cartons). I was quite guarded and wasn’t the sort of student who could go out at the weekend, but I made some good friends while there and we enjoyed spending our time in coffee shops. However, I couldn’t bring myself to tell them from the beginning that I was pregnant- I suppose I was worried about being labelled “the pregnant one” before people had the chance to get to know me a little.
I remember that six months into my pregnancy, I was really starting to show (I lost quite a lot of weight due to sickness initially and had a tiny bump) meaning that I would have to let my friends know. I remember the day vividly: one of my friends and I went to Café Neo (a place that we frequented on a regular basis) and I remember thinking how I could possibly raise the subject. Somehow, my friend started talking about children and I asked her if she ever thought about having children of her own. Now was my chance. My friend then asked me the same question in return: “Yes, I would…in fact I will be doing, in about three months”. My friend was in total shock and seemed even more surprised that I hadn’t told her sooner. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
It did feel great to have people around me that knew that I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my baby. During one particular seminar (which I do feel slightly guilty for), I felt my baby kick and became really excitable; most of the students around me whirled around and asked if they could feel her kick. It was a great moment, but I felt a little guilty for disturbing the lecture. However, the lecturer at the time didn’t seem to mind and instead brushed off what was happening and looked at me with at least what I thought was a little warmth and compassion.
During the last three months of my pregnancy, I noticed things changing significantly and started struggling a little. I still to this day hear people say that “pregnancy isn’t an illness”- to which I want to tell them to try experiencing it for themselves.
Something that I actually look back on and laugh about now is that I couldn’t fit behind the fold-out small tables that were attached to chairs in some of the lecture halls, so I had to take up two seats and write on a table that was on the neighbouring chair. I remember joking that it would probably be easier to sit with my notepad resting on my bump!
I gave birth to my beautiful daughter on the 17th May 2008.
I had the summer period to adjust with such a new lifestyle, which I really needed due to having a baby who thought that she was nocturnal for the first few weeks of her life! I decided that I felt confident enough to continue with my second year and things went by smoothly enough with combining parenting and studying. I would get work done whenever the little one was asleep, so a pattern soon developed that I could stick to. I arranged childcare at a local nursery for when I would return for the next academic year, so I felt confident that things would work out well.
However, cracks were beginning to emerge in my relationship…
A difficult final year- becoming a single parent
My final year was when I nearly reached breaking point. Many students will be aware of the fact that the final year is dissertation year, so is very intense. This was the year in which my relationship with my daughter’s father broke down. Almost a year of very difficult times followed because it was by no means a civil break-up. I was extremely close to giving up with my studies because I remember thinking that I would be lucky to pass considering that my home life was so disruptive; I couldn’t focus on sitting at home and reading, then writing up essay drafts. However, I talked to some brilliant staff members at Sheffield Hallam University and was supported through this very difficult time. I managed to complete the year.
However, this experience had an impact on how I felt as a person: my confidence was severely shot at this point and during a PGCE interview I burst into tears when they asked me why I wanted to teach. I remember answering with tears in my eyes that I wanted to do it for my daughter because I wanted (and needed) a better life for us. I didn’t get offered a place. I suppose on hindsight that I wasn’t ready, but following this rejection, I decided to pick myself up and continue working hard for the both of us.
I completed my degree after the usual three years and decided to continue with postgraduate study. Being a single parent was difficult for many reasons, particularly in terms of finances, so I got a job at Costa coffee in my home town to help pay the bills while studying for my Master’s degree part-time. I met some wonderful people while working there and was sad to leave when I qualified.
Following the completion of this course, I was successful in being offered a place on a Post-16 PGCE which I have recently completed and to my absolute delight I have started working where I completed my placement.
I genuinely feel like all of the hard work has paid off; my daughter and I can finally look forward to the start of a better life. So, while it was certainly not easy, I am glad that I decided to continue with University; I would like to think that I am raising my daughter to the best of my abilities while hoping that I am teaching her that hard work can pay off in the end.